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PETER B. GUDAITIS, M.DIV.
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NYC Hazards: Winter Health and Safety Tips
NYC OEM has issued the following Cold Weather Alert:

The tri-state region is currently in the midst of an arctic air mass, which will cause near-to or below 0 degree wind chills for most of the next three days. The National Weather Service forecasted this morning that the temperature for NYC would remain below freezing until Friday. We encourage you and your organization to take all necessary precautions.

 Tips for Staying Warm

Exposure to cold can cause life-threatening health conditions. Avoid serious conditions such as frostbite and hypothermia, by keeping warm.
  • Wear a hat, hood, or scarf, as most heat is lost through the head.
  • Wear layers, as they provide better insulation and warmth.
  • Keep fingertips, earlobes, and noses covered if you go outside.
  • Keep clothing dry; if a layer becomes wet, remove it.
 Snow Removal Safety Tips
  • Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This may prevent injury.
  • Cover your mouth. Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your mouth when outdoors.
  • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unfamiliar exercise, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Take frequent rest breaks, and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothes frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Stay safe. Walk carefully on snowy or icy sidewalks. If using a snowblower, NEVER use your hands to unclog the machine.
  • Maintain an awareness of utilities when shoveling snow. Do not cover fire hydrants with snow when clearing sidewalks and driveways. Do not shovel snow into manholes and catch basins.
  • Offer to help individuals who require special assistance, including seniors and people with disabilities.
 Clearing Snow and Dangling Ice from Roofs
  • Snow and rain that collect on roofs become heavy and cause damage to buildings.
  • Remove leaves and debris from roof drains to prevent water from collecting.
  • In addition to cleaning out gutters, clear snow from roofs and drains.
  • Flat roofs require special attention. Snow and water should be removed with drainage systems or manually.
OEM and the Department of Buildings urge building owners and managers to remove ice from their buildings where possible. If ice removal is not possible, building owners and managers should rope off the unsafe area.

Residents should take care to avoid areas roped off due to hazardous ice conditions, and be cautious of dangerous, hanging ice.

 Ice Safety Tips

During the winter months, ponds and lakes in City parks may appear frozen, but venturing onto them is extremely dangerous and can cause potentially fatal accidents. To remind people of the dangers of thin ice, Parks & Recreation posts warning signs along the perimeter of city lakes and ponds in English and in Spanish. Special ladders are also installed around the edges of city lakes for trained personnel to use in case someone falls through the ice.
  • Never go on frozen waters (unless clearly marked otherwise with official signs).
  • Parents and caregivers should make sure children are never unattended near ice.
  • If you hear cracking, lie down immediately to try to distribute your weight.
  • If you witness someone falling through ice, never attempt to make a rescue by yourself.
  • Call 911 and notify the proper authorities. Be sure to give the exact location and an account of the incident. Learn more about outdoor skating rinks in City parks
 Safe Home Heating Tips

Improper use of portable heating equipment can lead to fire or dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Take precautions to ensure you are heating your home safely.
    FIRE SAFETY:
  • Use only portable heating equipment that is approved for indoor use.
  • Keep combustible materials, including furniture, drapes, and carpeting at least three feet away from the heat source. NEVER drape clothes over a space heater to dry.
  • Always keep an eye on heating equipment. Never leave children alone in the room where a space heater is running. Turn it off when you are unable to closely monitor it.
  • Be careful not to overload electrical circuits.
Make sure you have a working smoke detector in every room. Check and change batteries often.
    CARBON MONOXIDE SAFETY:
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home and check it regularly to make sure the battery is working. NYC law requires owners to provide and install at least one approved carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of the primary entrance to each sleeping room. Learn more about NYC's Carbon Monoxide Detector Law
  • Make sure your heating system is kept clean and properly vented; have worn or defective parts replaced.
  • Kerosene heaters are dangerous and illegal in New York City.
  • Don't heat your home with a gas stove or oven.
  • Do not use any gas-powered appliance, charcoal grill, or hibachi indoors.
  • Open your garage door before starting your car and do not leave the motor running in an enclosed area. Clear exhaust pipes before starting a car or truck after it snows.
  • The most common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is headache. However, symptoms may also include dizziness, chest pain, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, people can become increasingly irritable, agitated and confused, eventually becoming lethargic and lapsing into unconsciousness.
  • If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911, and get the victim to fresh air immediately, and open windows. Learn more about carbon monoxide
For more information on how to properly and safely heat your home, please review "Using Heaters in the Colder Weather" from the NYC Fire Department.

 What to Do If You Lose Heat

Every resident is entitled to heat and hot water. Tenants without adequate heat or hot water should first speak with the building owner, manager, or superintendent. If the problem is not corrected, tenants should call 311. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will attempt to contact your building's owner to get heat or hot water service restored.

If service has not been restored, HPD will send an inspector to your building to verify the complaint and issue a violation. If your landlord does not live up to his or her legal obligation, HPD will call in emergency contractors to fix the boiler or do whatever is required to get your heat and hot water working again.

For more information about loss of heat or hot water, refer to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's frequently asked questions for tenants.

If you lose heat, take measures to trap existing warm air, and safely stay warm until heat returns:
  • Insulate your home as much as possible. Hang blankets over windows and doorways and stay in a well-insulated room while power is out.
  • Dress warmly. Wear hats, scarves, gloves, and layered clothing.
  • If you have a working fireplace, use it for heat and light, but be sure to keep the damper open for ventilation.
  • Open your faucets to a steady drip so pipes do not freeze.
  • Eat. Food provides your body with needed energy to produce its own heat and drinking helps your body avoid dehydration.
  • If the cold persists and your heat is not restored, call family, neighbors, or friends to see if you can stay with them.
    If your service line, pipes or water meters freeze:
  • Open a faucet near the frozen point to release vapor from melting ice.
  • Direct a hair dryer or heat lamp at the frozen section, or put a small space heater nearby.
  • NEVER thaw a frozen pipe or meter with an open flame; this could lead to fire or cause a steam explosion.
  • If your meter is damaged or your pipes burst, call 311. Learn more about water supply disruptions
    If you lose power, call your power provider immediately to report the outage.
  • Con Edison 24-hour hotline: 800-75-CONED (752-6633)
  • KeySpan 24-hour hotline: 718-643-4050
    If you need emergency heating assistance, The Human Resources Administration (HRA) administers the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), provide low-income people with emergency heating assistance. Eligible residents will receive a payment for fuel delivery, or HRA will arrange for fuel delivery or boiler repair. Emergency assistance is given to those who qualify only once per heating season. Call 311 for more information.

    How To Help Others
  • Infants, seniors, and people with paralysis or neuropathy are at increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Check on friends, relatives, and neighbors who may need assistance to ensure they are adequately protected from the cold.
  • Community members that identify someone on the street they believe needs assistance should call 311 and ask for the Mobile Outreach Response Team. The Department of Homeless Services will send an outreach team to the location to assess the individual's condition and take appropriate action.
  • Recognize symptoms of cold weather illnesses such as frostbite and hypothermia:
    • Hypothermia: symptoms include slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, dizziness, shallow breathing, unusual behavior, and slow, irregular heartbeat.
    • Frostbite: symptoms include gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, and waxy feeling skin.
  • If you suspect a person is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, bring him or her someplace warm and seek medical help immediately or call 911.
  • If medical help is unavailable, re-warm the person, starting at the core of their body. Warming arms and legs first can increase circulation of cold blood to the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Use a blanket, or if necessary, your own body heat to warm the person.
  • Do not give a person suffering frostbite or hypothermia alcohol or caffeine, both of which can worsen the condition. Instead, give the patient a cup of warm broth.
 If You Must Drive a Vehicle

Whenever possible, avoid driving in a winter storm. If you must go out, it is safer to take public transportation. However, if you must drive or get caught in a storm, heed the following tips:
  • Avoid traveling alone, but if you do so, let someone know your destination, route and when you expect to arrive.
  • Dress warmly. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in layers.
  • Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions.
  • Use major streets or highways for travel whenever possible; these roadways will be cleared first.
  • Drive slowly. Posted speed limits are for ideal weather conditions. Vehicles take longer to stop on snow and ice than on dry pavement.
  • Four-wheel drive vehicles may make it easier to drive on snow-covered roads, but they do not stop quicker than other vehicles.
  • If you skid, steer in the direction you want the car to go and straighten the wheel when the car moves in the desired direction.
  • Know your vehicle's braking system. Vehicles with antilock brakes require a different braking technique than vehicles without antilock brakes in icy or snowy conditions.
  • Try to keep your vehicle's gas tank as full as possible.
    IF YOU GET STUCK ON THE ROAD:
  • Stay with your car. Do not try to walk to safety unless help is visible within 100 yards. You could become disoriented in blowing snow.
  • Display a trouble sign if you need help; tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna and raise the hood to alert rescuers.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the car is running so you can be seen.
  • Move your arms and legs to keep blood circulating and to stay warm.
  • Keep one window slightly open to let in fresh air. Use a window that is opposite the direction the wind is blowing.

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